Thanks for a very interesting question.
In asking whether the work of the Merlin Project is science or
pseudoscience, it helps to lay out some of the markers that can used
to distinguish the two. What makes science, science, afterall?
Two things stand out in this regard:
1. Adherence to the scientific method.
We can turn to the ever-useful Wikipedia for a reminder of our
school-book lessons on the scientific method:
The scientific method or process is considered fundamental to the
scientific investigation and acquisition of new knowledge based upon
physical evidence. Scientists propose new assertions about our world
in the form of theories: observations, hypotheses, and deductions.
Predictions from these theories are tested by experiment. If a
prediction turns out to be correct, the theory survives. Any theory
which is cogent enough to make predictions can then be tested
reproducibly in this way. The method is commonly taken as the
underlying logic of scientific practice. The scientific method is
essentially an extremely cautious means of building a supportable,
evidenced understanding of our world. -----
This is a nice overview that captures many key features:
--Careful observation of events in the world around us
--Proposal of explanations about the mechanisms underlying those
events (hypothoses, etc).
--Predictions about yet-to-be observed phenomenon
--Experiments to test these predictions
Wikipedia also emphasizes reproducibility -- other scientists should
be able to duplicate the results of a scientific experiment, to assist
in confirming results. This necessarily entails conducting
"controlled" experiments, and then making detailed information
accessible about one's experiments and results.
2. Immersion in the "culture" of science
Another way of recognizing science is that scientists are generally
fairly-well steeped in the culture of their profession. They publish
their work in peer-reviewed scientific journals. Works are heavily
referenced with papers from other scientific journals. They attend
scientific meetings and present their findings before other scientists
for critical review and evalution. They (usually, but not always)
have a set of scientific "credentials" -- degrees from such-and-such a
university, lists of publications, positions in learned societies, and
so on, all presented in curriculm vitae with long lists of educational
and professional accomplishments.
Although not as essential to distinguishing science from
pseudoscience, the immersion (or lack thereof) in the culture of
science is certainly an important consideration.
Now, how does the Merlin Project fare in regard to the two items above?
First -- and in fairness to the Merlin Project -- we should ask a very
fundamental question: Are they even presenting themselves as
"science"? Are they claiming to have achieved some sort of scientific
I searched the Merlin site for any of the following terms:
[science OR scientific OR experiment OR experimental]
There were 13 "hits" on these terms:
and only a few of these were in a context that might be regarded as scientific.
However, the results that did come up clearly indicate that the Merlin
Project sees itself -- and intends to be seen -- as a serious
In particular, there is this mention of their experimental results:
Overall, MERLIN's accuracy has approached 80 percent. In one
controlled experiment coordinated by a group of GE(nie®) scientists
and skeptics, MERLIN assigned accident dates to their respective
victims with an accuracy rate that outperformed chance odds by a
whopping 30,000 to 1. -----
Although only a brief reference, this excerpt certainly makes mention
of many of the hallmarks of science: predictions, experiments,
exacting results and "cultural" involvement of other scientists as
well as skeptics. It -- along with other assertions at the site --
certainly gives the Merlin Project the appearance of being a
But an essential element is missing here: Where is the information
about the experiment? How was it conducted? What methods were used?
Who were the scientists and skeptics involved? Where are the results
published? Even if the site itself doesn't care to offer this level
of detail (which could easily overwhelm a casual visitor) they should
certainly provide references to where the information can be found.
But they do not.
The same link also mentions their grand intent:
-----MERLIN will lay the groundwork for an entirely new 21st century
science of pattern, information, intelligence and consciousness unlike
anything which currently exists; a science as revolutionary as quantum
physics and as far reaching in it's impact. -----
So, according to the Merlin Project, an entire new branch of science
is emerging out their groundbreaking work.
There is additional language (again, at the same link) that sheds some
additional light on their efforts:
-----...MERLIN combines the exactness of planetary mathematics with
recognized historical cycles to create snapshots of time by using a
single, "frozen moment" of time as a starting point. The resulting
chronographs, called ?Timetraks®? are highly individualized patterns,
tracings in time that begin when we are born or a key ("genesis")
...While relating celestial movements to human events has long been a
controversial subject, MERLIN's track record of timely and accurate
predictions speaks for itself. Notable forecasting successes include:
the acquittal of O.J. Simpson, the scandals of the Bill Clinton
presidency and the Presidential bid of Bob Dole, Leno's underdog
triumph over Letterman, the emergence of JFK Jr., the demise of
National Health Care, the Republican Revolution of 1994, the timetable
for the breakup of the Soviet Union, the follies of the second Bush
Administration, including the duration and chaotic aftermath of both
the Gulf and Iraqi Wars, the continued survival of Saddam Hussein and
Osama Bin Laden, the resurgence of John Kerry and the failed
Presidential bid of Howard Dean and many other timely events.
...MERLIN will also present a clear conceptual framework which for the
first time will provide a firm foundation for "legitimizing"
traditional predictive systems like astrology. -----
Again, there is language here that invokes images of a sceintific
endeavor ("...the exactness of planetary mathematics..."), but there
is no real information about what they're doing, how they're doing it,
or what the outcomes are. The inference is clear -- that they can
make successful predictions about events in the near-future-- but
there's nothing here that establishes their "track record" of success
other than their say-so.
They do mention some potential "references" -- concrete sources of
information -- but upon examination, these fade into non-relevance.
For instance, there's this:
-----In 1995, the MERLIN creators were approached by a Strategic
Planning Office of the Pentagon's Joint Chiefs of Staff and asked to
provide a long-range forecast and timetable for potential incidents of
domestic terrorism over the following seven years. This "white paper"
which was submitted in July 1995, included indications of a
significant threat culminating in the Fall of 2001, which we now know
to be the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center and The Pentagon.
The site provides a link to the JCS "white paper", which can be found here:
along with a more detailed version (with Timetrak graphs) here:
-----MERLIN: An Essential Tool For Long-Range Situation Assessment
CASE STUDIES RELATED TO NATIONAL SECURITY (DOMESTIC AND INTERNATIONAL)
Joint Chiefs of Staff Futures Branch Joint War Fighting Center Fort
18 July 1995
It should be noted right up-front that the Merlin Project site makes
two rather significant claims for this paper: (1) that the JCS
approached Merlin to write a white paper and (2) that the white paper
foreshadowed the 9/11 attacks.
Neither of these appears to be the case.
The paper in question was a submission to the JCS, but there is no
indication that it was ever requested by the JCS, at least not in a
The absence on any contractural-type of language in the report
strongly suggests that the Merlin Project was not hired to create the
paper, but rather submitted it gratis.
Furthermore, the fact it was submitted to JCS really carries no
particular meaning. I could just as easily call up any branch of the
military, tell them I have an important invention that will
revolutionize the way they do things, and be "invited" to send in my
ideas by someone on the other end of the phone hoping to get rid of me
as quickly as possible. This does not make my subsequent submission a
"white paper" in any normal usage of the term. I don't know that this
was the course of event with the Merlin Project, but there's nothing
to indicate otherwise.
As for the 9/11 claim, I can see absolutely nothing in the paper that
relates to this. In fact, the paper does not mention any dates beyond
the year 1998, and it is difficult to see how any of the language in
the paper can be construed as referring to 9/11. If -- after reading
the paper yourself -- you find otherwise, I'd love to hear back from
you as to what you found.
By the way, independently of the paper for JCS, the site does post a
9/11 "Timetrak" graph:
From what I can tell, this plot was run on 9/11/2001, so it can hardly
be said that it predicted anything regarding that eventful day.
What's more, in looking over the graph itself, I sure can't see
anything of significance in the plots around September 2001 -- can
But back to the JCS report. Here are some excerpts of note from the
report, along with my comments:
--As an adjunct to traditional intelligence sources and techniques,
MERLIN offers the possibility of serving as a horizon fence early
warning system poised to provide an alert well in advance of any
otherwise unexpected shifts in the status or stance of
adversaries......From the outset its primary application was clearly
envisioned as being in the geopolitical forecasting realm.
Consequently it would be of greatest utility to intelligence analysts
and military planners.
[This, then, is the function of Merlin -- to serve as an early warning
system for otherwise unexpected geopolitical events]
--Although the underpinnings of MERLIN rest on a foundation of cyclic
behavior which may seem less rock solid than the physics of
microelectronics, military research has always been characterized by
focussed pragmatism. The essential question is not "How does it work?"
but "How well does it work?" What is its empirical utility.
[In essence, they are sidestepping the question of How does Merlin
work, and instead, treating it as a "black box" -- it does
**something** but they're not willing to say what. This is NOT
science as it is normally practiced]
--In case after case it has nailed the timetable of major world events
with shocking accuracy. On the record in annual CNN Larry King Live
appearances and in innumerable other venues.
[They're saying "the proof is in the pudding". But oddly, they offer
neither proof nor pudding, but merely mention CNN, et al. Nowhere in
the report is their actual "track record" detailed, despite the
"innumerable" opportunities to do so.]
--It must be strongly emphasized that all of this has been
accomplished by an unfunded bootstrap effort by the MERLIN Project
Research Group team of Paul Guercio and George Hart. In spite of its
reported successes MERLIN is actually still in its Model T phase. With
external support this already useful tool could be honed to a much
[Translation: We need money, please give us some. This, at least, is
a time-honored tradition among scientists]
--...and its performance validated and quantitatively characterized in
carefully constructed statistical studies, initially retrospective and
[This is interesting, as they are admitting that (1) the performance
of Merlin has not been validated or "quantitatively characterized"
since they haven't had the resources to do so, and (2) even with
funding, they would first conduct a retrospective validation -- that
is, see if Merlin could "predict" events that have already happened,
before venturing to study whether it could, in fact, predict anything
about the future]
--MERLIN is a computer-based forecasting technology that combines
equations derived from planetary time cycles with past historical data
and blends that information into a chronograph(r) or Timetrak(r) that
plots the chronology of future events....
[This description of Merlin is almost shockingly hollow. It says
nothing about the system -- what principles it is based on, how it
works, what the significance of "planetary cycles" are, what sort of
data is fed into the system, etc, etc. Nowhere in the paper is
anything more offered by way of explanation]
--MERLIN was initially developed in the summer of 1989. In the fall of
the same year, the collapse of the Honicker government in East Germany
and subsequent dissolution of the entire Soviet Union, was MERLIN's
first and most prescient call to date.
[Once again, there is absolutely no validation or reference or
confirmation or anything to lend credibility other than a simple
statement along the lines of "we predicted the downfall of the USSR"]
--At present, the software alone does not make specific predictions
regarding the precise nature of a forthcoming event or episode. It
cannot provide a detailed forecast for the actual circumstances to
occur. Those forecasts require review by an experienced analyst with a
solid working knowledge of the cast of characters and overall context
of the situation. Also, a minimum of three MERLIN Timetraks(r) that
represent key players or factors in the situation under consideration
are generally required for the most precise time-sensitive forecasts.
This triangulation permits common points of convergence in the
trendlines to be isolated, noted, and interpreted with a high degree
of confidence. In such cases, a better than 70% accuracy rate has been
demonstrated over a six year period.
[The need for an experienced analyst to interpret the Merlin output
calls into question the reproducibility of the results -- do all
analysts tend to come to the same conclusions/predictions? And again,
the glib mention of a 70% accuracy rate, with no description of what
this means (what was accurately predicted) an no reference allowing
I could go on and on, but I hope you see the point. In this -- the
most detailed write-up of the Merlin system that I could find -- there
is no meaningful scientific content, and no information to butress the
credibility of the system.
You asked specifically about the information posted at:
http://www.accessbest.com/merlin/reading_a_timetrak.htm How to Interpret a Timetrak
I will not spend a great deal of attention on this, as it suffers from
the same sort of shortcomings I outlined for the much-more detailed
document to the Joint Chiefs. However, a few additional points are
--Our experience has been that MERLIN makes the correct call at least
70% of the time, over the course of 15 years of research, in
addressing questions where a coin toss' often represents the extent of
[Once more, empty claims. Fifteen years of research, but not a single
citation or reference is made! A claim of being 70% correct, but no
indication whatsoever as to what this means. Correct about what?
Correct according to what criteria? Correct in who's judgement? By
the way, a 70% record of being "correct" may or may not be noteworthy.
I can predict that it will be warm and sunny in Los Angeles tomorrow,
and I'll be correct 95% of the time....but so what?]
--The MERLIN chronograph or Timetrak® is a composite image that is
made up of two separate time models. The solid or darker portion of
the display is often reflective of EXTERNAL objective realities, when
applied to an individual. It indicates factors such as their career,
status or living situation. The shaded or lighter portion reflects
more INTERNAL subjective concerns, for example health or emotional
matters. Analogous factors can often be applied even to countries or
projects and situations, where a meaningful reference can be drawn. An
example might be the strength of the fabric of a society as compared
to say, it's GDP or domestic output.
There can also be another dimension to these shading differences. The
solid or darker portion of the display generally identifies the level
of culminating long-term cyclic activity. It represents factors
affecting the situation that have a structural or `fixed' quality. The
kind of conditions we generally think of as 'fate.' The shaded or
lighter portion generally indicates the level of cumulative short-term
activity. It represents factors that have a less stable, more `fluid'
quality. These are the kinds of conditions we associate with
consciousness-driven circumstance or `free will.' Heightened
eventfulness most often occurs when both patterns appear
simultaneously or when one gives way to the other.
[The presentation of the Timetraks is yet again something else with no
particular meaning since: (a) there is no explanation of how the
graphs are generated or what they measure (b) there is no clear
definition or explanation of the relevant terms or how they relate to
the model -- is a person's "health" or "living situation" or a
country's "fabric of society" an input to or an output of the model?
Who can say?] (c) there is no clear guidance for "reading" the graphs
-- I doubt any two people would look at the same plots and come to
similar conclusions about the "importance" of particular dates.]
--In such cases, a better than 75% accuracy rate has been demonstrated
in over 15 years of high-visibility research. (Source: CNN, NBC, NPR)
[In citing CNN etc as the "source" of the 75% figure, they are
essentially admitting -- we have no research to cite, so we're citing
our own statements to the press]
By the way, I conducted a search of newspaper, magazine and
TV-transcript stories about the Merlin Project to see what turned up.
Indeed, the Merlin Project has been featured a few times on the Larry
King show (I didn't find any references on other stations) as well as
in a USA Today newspaper article. The news reports add some
additional perspective, but don't provide anything that could be
labeled "science". Here are a few excerpts along with my comments:
USA TODAY December 31, 1991
A modern Merlin predicts future // Computers and stars are guides
[Basic report on the Merlin Project, with a few predictions at the end
of the article...I'll leave it to you to gauge whether they hit the
70-75% "correct" predictions that they lay claim to]
For 1992 and into 1993:
- Yeltsin's timeline shows a high amount of activity. He is likely to
fail to resolve food or social problems, after which a second coup
- A ''dramatic shift'' in China between now and February 1992, with
events ''culminating in late 1992.'' That includes a resurgence of the
democracy movement and major changes in the ruling hierarchy.
- Castro's government in Cuba ''goes unstable'' between 1992 and 1993,
with the bearded ruler out by mid-1993.
- A ''turning point'' in the AIDS epidemic sometime from October 1993
to February 1994. It could be a vaccine.
- Major unrest in former East Germany, with strikes and massive
unemployment. German Chancellor Helmut Kohl stands a chance of being
dumped by the end of 1992.
- Transition point in the Mideast peace talks in February or March
1992. ''Movement apparent at that point or talks break down.''
[The predictions here are too diffuse to summarize in any concise way,
but there's a quote from Mr. Guercio regarding Merlin's status as a
CNN: Larry King Live December 27, 1991
KING: United States troops stormed the desert to stop Saddam Hussein's
forces; Israel opens peace talks with its Arab enemies; the Lebanon
hostages are released and returned to their loved ones - all surprises
to some, but 'MERLIN' knew it was coming all along. 'MERLIN' is a
computer project with a dollop of science and a dash of astrology and
now 'MERLIN' is setting its mechanical sights on 1992. Joining me here
in Washington are 'MERLIN's' developers. They are futurist Paul
Guercio and physicist George Hart.
Mr. GUERCIO: ...this is that it's a breakthrough area of science. It's
something that we- Frankly, coming here tonight is an interesting
exercise because we're giving your viewers a chance to find out about
something which science essentially disavows because its an area that
they've mostly not explored.
[Interesting quote here about the sensitivity of Merlin to initial
conditions -- an error of a few hours in someone's time of birth
totally throws off the result. Hard to imagine a system producing any
reliable results with that sort of sensitivity]
CNN: Larry King Live January 1, 1993
The Merlin Project's 1993 Predictions
...Let's get down to Castro, Fidel Castro, one of the last remaining
communist leaders, one George Bush kept insisting would fall, along
with Gorbachev. What do you see about Castro?
Mr. HART: -yeah, and it's [unintelligible] to 1989 to the present. We
see a reflection in Merlin of the underlying disorder that's beginning
to spread widely through Castro's Cuba. The sense one gets is of Fidel
slowly sinking into quicksand. And Merlin's rather unambiguous
prediction is that by the end of this year he's very likely to
disappear from the world stage.
...Bill Clinton has a maximum of maybe a year to 18 months to get his
program in place, or we're going to be looking for someone else to
elect in '96
...On the tax question you raised, I think eventually he's just, like
Willie Sutton, going to have to go where the money is, and that will
probably be a tax on consumption combined with a tax on inheritances.
Mr. GUERCIO: I also think-
TILLOTSON: What, general consumption?
Mr. HART: Yes. A nationwide sales tax equivalent, to be able to draw
into the underground economy.
TILLOTSON: I ask in that the gasoline tax was one that kept cropping
up during the election, but you don't see it that specifically.
Mr. HART: Not that narrowly. I think it will have to be an even
broader base than that...Clinton has a very short length of time to
get the economy in some kind of healthy shape, or we're going to be
going through the same kind of doldrums, you know, beginning later in
the year that we've seen for the last couple of years.
5th TELEPHONE CALLER: When you were on this program last year with
Merlin and there was a question as to whether George Bush would win
the 1992 election...and it was interpreted that Merlin forecast that
George...Bush would get in by a slight margin, but there was no sign
of Quayle. Bill Clinton's now the president. What happened?
Mr. GUERCIO: Well, that's a good question. I'm surprised Mary didn't
ask it, but since you did- I think the simple answer is that Merlin
can be wrong. We are limited by the input of the information. In the
case of George Bush, we were given an afternoon birth time for George
Bush, and it turns out he was born in the morning. Sometimes-
TILLOTSON: Faulty data.
Mr. GUERCIO: -well, no, it was our mistake, we should have
double-checked it, you know. We can't blame the system. The system did
exactly what it's supposed to do. But what's interesting is that the
difference of six hours or eight hours in birth time produced an
extension of the line in George Bush's run which caused us to
essentially predict that he was going to stay put, because there was
no break, in other words, like this in the line.
And lastly, I checked the Patent Office regarding the excimer laser
that Dr. Hart reputedly invented and lo and behold:
UNITED STATES PATENT AND TRADEMARK OFFICE GRANTED PATENT 4143336 March 6, 1979
Xenon bromide (XeBr) excimer laser
INVENTOR: Searles, Stuart K., Burke, VA; Hart, George A., Levant, ME
[so in the laser physics department, at least, he has som credentials]
The bottom line on all this is that the Merlin Project completely
fails the criteria I laid out at the beginning of this note:
adherence to the scientific method, and immersion in the culture of
the scientific community.
I'm not saying their predictions are successful or unsuccessful --
I'll leave that to you and others to judge. But they did not arrive
at their predictions by anything that resembles a scientific process.
I trust this information fully answers your question and provides the
sort of perspective you were looking for on the Merlin Project.
However, please don't rate this answer until you have everything you
need. If you would like any additional information, just post a
Request for Clarification to let me know how I can assist you further,
and I'm at your service.
All the best,